Preparing for Old Age
From: Love Life Work
Socrates was once asked by a pupil, this question: "What kind of people
shall we be when we reach Elysium?"
And the answer was this: "We shall be the same kind of people that we
If there is a life after this, we are preparing for it now, just as I am
to-day preparing for my life to-morrow.
What kind of a man shall I be to-morrow? Oh, about the same kind of a
man that I am now. The kind of a man that I shall be next month depends
upon the kind of a man that I have been this month.
If I am miserable to-day, it is not within the round of probabilities
that I shall be supremely happy to-morrow. Heaven is a habit. And if we
are going to Heaven we would better be getting used to it.
Life is a preparation for the future; and the best preparation for the
future is to live as if there were none.
We are preparing all the time for old age. The two things that make old
age beautiful are resignation and a just consideration for the rights
In the play of _Ivan the Terrible_, the interest centers around one man,
the Czar Ivan. If anybody but Richard Mansfield played the part, there
would be nothing in it. We simply get a glimpse into the life of a
tyrant who has run the full gamut of goosedom, grumpiness, selfishness
and grouch. Incidentally this man had the power to put other men to
death, and this he does and has done as his whim and temper might
dictate. He has been vindictive, cruel, quarrelsome, tyrannical and
terrible. Now that he feels the approach of death, he would make his
peace with God. But he has delayed that matter too long. He didn't
realize in youth and middle life that he was then preparing for old age.
Man is the result of cause and effect, and the causes are to a degree in
our hands. Life is a fluid, and well has it been called the stream of
life--we are going, flowing somewhere. Strip _Ivan_ of his robes and
crown, and he might be an old farmer and live in Ebenezer. Every town
and village has its Ivan. To be an Ivan, just turn your temper loose
and practise cruelty on any person or thing within your reach, and the
result will be a sure preparation for a querulous, quarrelsome, pickety,
snipity, fussy and foolish old age, accented with many outbursts of
wrath that are terrible in their futility and ineffectiveness.
Babyhood has no monopoly on the tantrum. The characters of _King Lear_
and _Ivan the Terrible_ have much in common. One might almost believe
that the writer of _Ivan_ had felt the incompleteness of _Lear_, and had
seen the absurdity of making a melodramatic bid for sympathy in behalf
of this old man thrust out by his daughters.
Lear, the troublesome, Lear to whose limber tongue there was constantly
leaping words unprintable and names of tar, deserves no soft pity at our
hands. All his life he had been training his three daughters for exactly
the treatment he was to receive. All his life Lear had been lubricating
the chute that was to give him a quick ride out into that black
"Oh, how sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless
child," he cries.
There is something quite as bad as a thankless child, and that is a
thankless parent--an irate, irascible parent who possesses an
underground vocabulary and a disposition to use it.
The false note in _Lear_ lies in giving to him a daughter like
_Cordelia_. Tolstoy and Mansfield ring true, and _Ivan the Terrible_ is
what he is without apology, excuse or explanation. Take it or leave
it--if you do not like plays of this kind, go to see Vaudeville.
Mansfield's _Ivan_ is terrible. The Czar is not old in years--not over
seventy--but you can see that Death is sniffing close upon his track.
_Ivan_ has lost the power of repose. He cannot listen, weigh and
decide--he has no thought or consideration for any man or thing--this is
his habit of life. His bony hands are never still--the fingers open and
shut, and pick at things eternally. He fumbles the cross on his breast,
adjusts his jewels, scratches his cosmos, plays the devil's tattoo, gets
up nervously and looks behind the throne, holds his breath to listen.
When people address him, he damns them savagely if they kneel, and if
they stand upright he accuses them of lack of respect. He asks that he
be relieved from the cares of state, and then trembles for fear his
people will take him at his word. When asked to remain ruler of Russia
he proceeds to curse his councilors and accuses them of loading him with
burdens that they themselves would not endeavor to bear.
He is a victim of amor senilis, and right here if Mansfield took one
step more his realism would be appalling, but he stops in time and
suggests what he dares not express. This tottering, doddering,
slobbering, sniffling old man is in love--he is about to wed a young,
beautiful girl. He selects jewels for her--he makes remarks about what
would become her beauty, jeers and laughs in cracked falsetto. In the
animality of youth there is something pleasing--it is natural--but the
vices of an old man, when they have become only mental, are most
The people about _Ivan_ are in mortal terror of him, for he is still the
absolute monarch--he has the power to promote or disgrace, to take their
lives or let them go free. They laugh when he laughs, cry when he does,
and watch his fleeting moods with thumping hearts.
He is intensely religious and affects the robe and cowl of a priest.
Around his neck hangs the crucifix. His fear is that he will die with no
opportunity of confession and absolution. He prays to High Heaven every
moment, kisses the cross, and his toothless old mouth interjects prayers
to God and curses on man in the same breath.
If any one is talking to him he looks the other way, slips down until
his shoulders occupy the throne, scratches his leg, and keeps up a
running comment of insult--"Aye," "Oh," "Of course," "Certainly," "Ugh,"
"Listen to him now!" There is a comedy side to all this which relieves
the tragedy and keeps the play from becoming disgusting.
Glimpses of _Ivan's_ past are given in his jerky confessions--he is the
most miserable and unhappy of men, and you behold that he is reaping as
he has sown.
All his life he has been preparing for this. Each day has been a
preparation for the next. _Ivan_ dies in a fit of wrath, hurling curses
on his family and court--dies in a fit of wrath into which he has been
purposely taunted by a man who knows that the outburst is certain to
kill the weakened monarch.
Where does _Ivan the Terrible_ go when Death closes his eyes?
I know not. But this I believe: No confessional can absolve him--no
priest benefit him--no God forgive him. He has damned himself, and he
began the work in youth. He was getting ready all his life for this old
age, and this old age was getting ready for the fifth act.
The playwright does not say so, Mansfield does not say so, but this is
the lesson: Hate is a poison--wrath is a toxin--sensuality leads to
death--clutching selfishness is a lighting of the fires of hell. It is
all a preparation--cause and effect.
If you are ever absolved, you must absolve yourself, for no one else
can. And the sooner you begin, the better.
We often hear of the beauties of old age, but the only old age that is
beautiful is the one the man has long been preparing for by living a
beautiful life. Every one of us are right now preparing for old age.
There may be a substitute somewhere in the world for Good Nature, but I
do not know where it can be found.
The secret of salvation is this: Keep Sweet.
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